John Sterling has been calling Yankees games since 1989, but as far as he can recall he never has worked one on television.
That will change on Monday when he joins his former radio partner, Michael Kay, in a reunion of sorts on the YES Network for a game against the Phillies – the first of two consecutive Mondays they will work together.
"It’s just a couple of exhibition games, which as we know mean nothing," Sterling said. "But you can say, ‘Well, are you looking forward to it?’ Of course, I am. It will be wonderful.
"Michael and I have become very good friends over the years. So it’s just like broadcasting with a friend, which is what I hope it sounds like."
Kay was a newspaper reporter when he joined Sterling in 1992, and he was with him for 10 years – and four world championships – until he joined the new YES Network in 2002 as its play-by-play man.
So the two have seen each other regularly at the ballpark over the past 20 years. But YES president John Filippelli suggested having them together again, and Sterling said he loved the idea. (Kay declined to be interviewed by Newsday for this story.)
Sterling did baseball and basketball games on television in Atlanta before coming to New York, and in 2018 he called a Nets game for YES.
This TV experience will not be like those, given these unusual times. Sterling will work Monday from YES’ Stamford, Connecticut, studios, while Kay does the game from his home studio.
"If you said to me, ‘Well, John, that’s not ideal,’ you’re darn right it’s not ideal," Sterling said.
Last season, Sterling and Suzyn Waldman called games from Yankee Stadium, whether or not the Yankees were actually playing there, and that is the plan entering 2021.
But Sterling hopes for a return to normalcy – and travel – sometime this season. "I’m a tremendous optimist," he said, "so I’m hoping by June or July or so."
In the meantime, he will continue doing his best to call games off a monitor. He mostly has adapted, including pausing a beat after someone hits the ball waiting for the camera to show where it is headed.
The hardest part, he said, is having no in-person contact with the team.
"You have no interaction with the Yankees – none," he said. "I mean, zero. These Zoom interviews, I don’t want to say they’re a waste of time, but you ask a question, and you can’t ask a follow-up if it was a tough question . . . I think it’s awful."
Sterling recently spoke to manager Aaron Boone, who had a pacemaker installed last week, to see how he was doing.
"But how do you leave [the conversation]?" Sterling said. "You [usually] say, ‘I’ll look for you, I’ll see you.’ But I said to him, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, but I want to wish you luck.’ He liked that."
Sterling, 82, missed his first games in 30 years in 2019 because of a health problem and was hospitalized last August with a blood infection. But he said he now is "100 percent. I’ve had both vaccine shots, and I’m ready to go . . . Ready and raring."
He reiterated his oft-stated intention never to retire. "Until I drop," he said. "We’ll see. Right now, my health is perfect, and I don’t think about it. I just go and do the games. Obviously, I hope it works."
Monday, the work will take him back to an old friend and partner. He said that when Kay auditioned to replace Joe Angel for the 1992 season, "I knew that Michael was the guy."
Sterling said Kay had to learn the "rhythm" of doing play-by-play, "but everything else was terrific right away. Paul Newman after his two phenomenal successes with Robert Redford in 'Butch Cassidy' and then 'The Sting' said, ‘You can’t cast chemistry.’
"And it’s true. It’s either there or it isn’t. Suzyn and I have it, and Michael and I certainly had it."